Old pros and young bucks bring burlesque to Kafka in ‘Trial’


When retired English and theater teacher Mike Auer first pitched his idea for a play to Ann Boutelle, one of the co-founders of the Full Circle Theater Co., Boutelle was not fazed by the prospect.

Auer wanted to showcase Steven Berkoff’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Trial.” Considering that this would involve the coordination of hundreds of multi-media images, scores of lighting changes and a plot that can only be described as obscure, tied together by a core staff of high school students, Boutelle’s willingness to stage the show makes her something of a brave woman.

Despite the obvious challenges the production has brought, Boutelle and her team are confident they will put on a great show, and Boutelle said the production represents a coming to fruition for the small theater company.

Full Circle, founded in 1997, is based in the Parker Auditorium on the La Jolla High School campus. The organization is also partnered with the school, where Boutelle teaches theater. The new play features La Jolla High students in some of its main roles. In addition, the lighting and technical crew is mostly composed of students.

For the principal roles, however, director Auer decided to bring in the professionals. Matt Harrington, a graduate of New York University’s TISCH School of Arts and a stage actor in New York, is also Auer’s stepson. Harrington plays the central character, Joseph K, around whom Kafka’s strange tale unwinds.

He is joined on-stage by Priscilla Allen, who plays a character called Huld. Allen is an alumni of La Jolla High School. Her first play was on the school’s stage in her senior play. Since then, Allen has performed for many of the theaters in San Diego. She might also be recognized by many as the actor who played a bit-part in the 1990 sci-fi film “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“I’ve really come full circle,” she said with a laugh.

Allen said that this show is keeping with the spirit of the theater company presenting it.

The two professional actors know each other well. Harrington said the chance to work with Allen, who he described as one of San Diego’s finest stage actors, was one of the principal reasons he decided to return to San Diego. The young thespian has read Kafka extensively, and while he admitted that the character he plays is hard to define, he said the role functions on many levels.

While Kafka’s writing is perhaps better known for its darker tones and themes, Harrington said there is a surprising amount of humor inherent in the character he plays and in the playwright’s adaptation of “The Trial.”

“From my reading of Kafka, I think that he always had a latent comedy in his writing,” said Harrington. “He had a very, very dark sense of humor, but it was said he used to laugh out loud when he read some of his stories. I think that Berkoff took that humor and expanded on it.”

Auer agreed.

“People see Kafka and they think dark, gloom,” he said. “There’s plenty of dark and gloom in here, but there are policemen with red noses and clown feet and strippers and broad, physical comedy.”

The play follows protagonist Joseph K as he wakes one morning expecting to be brought his breakfast but, instead, finds himself being arrested. The reason for his arrest is not explained to him, and at first Joseph assumes the whole escapade is a joke.

As the play progresses however, he finds himself entwined in a bizarre dream-infused game of cat and mouse, where reality mixes freely with concept and he finds himself alternatively interrogated and let free, with no clue as to